Premiering at Melbourne Fringe Festival was the new work from Taiwan’s FOCA (Formosa Circus Art), Mr. III三III (Mr Three), a dark exploration of mundanity and grind culture. FOCA, established in 2011, blends contemporary circus arts, traditional Taiwanese forms, acrobatics, street culture and theatre. Its latest production provided a fresh take on a familiar topic – work culture under capitalism and all that comes with it.
In Mr. III三III, we followed three restless white-collar workers trapped in a banal and oppressive office environment.
In the opening scene, the well-dressed office workers knelt and chanted nonsensically under the glow of a triangle symbol. Located within the National Institute of Circus Arts (NICA) in Prahran, the empty set – featuring only a desk and a drum kit in the corner – added to the ominous scene.
What followed was a series of juggling acts and some impressive acrobatics, well-choreographed and hypnotic, set to the backdrop of a steady drumbeat. As time passed, the repetitiveness of the performers’ movements became more pronounced, reflecting the monotony of their daily routines. In a particularly effective scene, the office workers, one by one, stood at a desk beneath a fluorescent light swinging from the ceiling. Their movements suddenly intensified, taking on an erratic quality.
This was eventually disrupted by a comical recorder performance and the entrance of a statue, the symbolic significance of which remains open to interpretation. This segment introduced a deliberate lull in the narrative, emphasising the repetitive nature of their tasks and their quest for amusement within the confines of the mundane, even if it entailed taping pieces of the statute together.
While this interlude felt protracted, there was a childlike quality in their play that lightened the overall narrative. Still, the work and the audience would have benefited from some of the juggling or break-dancing excitement from earlier in the show.
Periodic visits from the drummer, who also doubled as the recorder player and presumably represented the office workers’ superiors, injected some much-needed tension into an otherwise silent landscape. This oppression gave way to comedic moments, taking the form of teasing and audience engagement.
It was these moments, along with the dramatic and loud finale, that reinvigorated the performance upon its conclusion.
Overall, Mr. III三III took a surreal approach, juxtaposing the office setting and mindless jargon with the performers’ suave fight scenes. This contrast, at its best, was equally comedic and sinister, subtly highlighting the push and pull between their corporate conformity and personal freedom.
Office politics aside, between the juggling, music and acrobatics, there was a sweet message in the show about ditching the suit and tie and reclaiming childhood joy. And that’s what stuck.
Created and Performed by: FOCA – Formosa Circus Art
National Institute of Circus Arts, Prahran, Melbourne
Mr. III三III was performed 11-14 October as part of Melbourne Fringe Festival.